On the season two finale of Star Trek: Picard, modern-day scientist Adam Soong (Brent Spiner), while going through his desk in a mad rage, discovered a manila folder with the words “Project: Khan: 1996” written on it. Of course, Trek fans are quite familiar with the name Khan, as he was one of the franchise’s biggest villains. Ricardo Montalbán gave a legendary performance on both the original Star Trek series, and in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.
But what does this name drop mean in terms of the Star Trek chronology? And any possible future Star Trek shows? It’s a tangled web that spans centuries, and what began as the original ’60s series’ “future” is now our past.
The History of Khan Noonien Singh
As described in the classic 1967 episode “ Space Seed,” Khan Noonien Singh was the product of genetic engineering in late 20th century Earth. No one knows exactly where or when they created Khan and his army of genetic augments, but they believed he was born in Northern India.
All we really know is that from 1992 to 1996, he controlled “a quarter of Earth’s population.” (At least according to Spock’s calculations). This included portions of Asia and the Middle East. Based on episodes of Star Trek: Voyager, which saw Janeway and her crew time traveling to the 1990s, it doesn’t seem like the Eugenics wars touched North America much, or at all. No late 20th century time travel episodes ever refer to him.
“Space Seed” and The Wrath of Khan
Eventually, the augments were defeated, and many were killed in the so-called Eugenics Wars. But Khan, along with 84 of his followers, survived. Instead of facing judgment, they proceeded to go into cryogenic freeze in a deep space sleeper ship. This is with ‘90s spacecraft tech, long before warp drive, so the ship would not have met its intended home for centuries.
But Captain James T. Kirk of the Enterprise discovered the sleeper ship Botany Bay in the 23rd century, and the rest is (future) history. Long story short, that Khan fella had a lot of wrath. And he took it out on Kirk and crew not once, but twice. It didn’t end well for him. But what does this all have to do with Data and his family? Well, this is where things get a little complicated.
A Family Legacy of Mad Scientists
The Soong family is a line of genius “mad scientists,” who stretch back to the 21st century. (And Brent Spiner plays all of them). Chronologically, the first we see of the Soongs is in Star Trek: Picard. Adam Soong is a billionaire genius who dabbled in unorthodox genetic research. It seems his scientific bent was towards cloning. He made a series of clones, many of whom died young. His final experiment was Kore Soong, who believed she was his natural child. When she discovered she was not his daughter but an experiment, she deleted all of her father’s research. With nothing else left, Adam Soong pulled out an old file, labeled “Project Khan: 1996.”
Too Many Soongs
So what does this mean? Well, Adam Soong’s descendent in the 22nd Century, Arik Soong, would continue his ancestor’s research into genetically augmented DNA. In the year 2154, he came across Captain Archer and the crew of the NX-01 Enterprise. They revealed that he had stolen several embryos from the 20th century Eugenics Wars. The same embryos that spawned Khan and his ilk.
Believing he could channel them for good, Arik Soong raised those superior specimens to adulthood. But they rebelled against him, and took over a Klingon Bird of Prey. The Klingons, so impressed with the superior strength of the augments, fused some of the augmented DNA to their own, creating a hybrid species. (And thus explaining why TOS-era Klingons looked human). After this fiasco, Arik Soong promised to abandon genetic experimentation, focusing instead on robotics and A.I.
From Augmented Humans to Artificial Lifeforms
This leads us to Data on TNG. Let’s flash forward almost two centuries. The Soong family must have continued its obsession with creating artificial life, because one of Arik Soong’s descendants also became a genius scientist. Dr. Noonian Soong (not to be confused with Noonien Singh, who was Khan) spent his whole life attempting to create an A.I. positronic brain. After many failures, he retreated to the planet Omicron Theta, where he finally constructed a living android, Data, in 2338. (although he created the prototypes B-4 and Lore prior to Data). Noonian Soong was brilliant, but didn’t seem malevolent like his ancestors were. His creation Lore later killed him in the year 2367.
Star Trek: Picard and Beyond
But Soong had a biological son as well. We only discovered this in season one of Star Trek: Picard. In the year 2399, Altan Inigo Soong continued his father’s work, along with another scientist, Bruce Maddox. After the ban on artificial life forms following the attack on Mars in 2385, Soong and Maddox set up a laboratory on the planet Coppelius. There, they continued their research despite the ban, creating a new breed of Soong-type androids. Although not seemingly as benevolent as his father, Altan also didn’t seem as amoral as his ancestors, each of whom was obsessed with creating “perfect” life forms.
We’re not sure what “Project Khan” means in terms of future Star Trek seasons, or even series. It could just be an Easter egg, suggesting Adam Soong will try to replicate the genetically superior augments—something we know his descendent will succeed at. Or, could it mean something more? There have been rumors of a Khan mini-series, something confirmed by Wrath of Khan director Nicholas Meyer. Perhaps something that covers the rise and fall of Khan?
It would be interesting to see how Trek applies the history of the Eugenics Wars into our real Earth history. Or, we could learn it in flashback form, on Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. After all, one of the crew members is a descendant of Khan, Lieutenant La’an Noonien Singh. This folder on the Picard finale may just be a fun Easter egg. But we hope it leads to more. There are a lot of unexplored territories left with Khan Singh.